Faith is a touchy subject when it comes to the workplace. Critics tell us that faith has no place in the workplace, that faith is a private matter. Employers often fear that “faith and the workplace” means employees will proselytize. Corporate lawyers tell HR to stay away from the subject. And many people simply worry that they might offend their co-workers if the topic comes up. But you might be surprised to discover how faith and workplace giving actually intersect and support each other.

Rather than dismissing faith and the workplace as a hot-potato topic, too hot for discussion, let’s take a deeper dive. “Faith and workplace giving” turns out to be an interesting, if uncommon, topic in the world of CSR. There is a lot to explore:

  1. Faith as an important ingredient to fundraising success,
  2. Insights into the relationship between faith and the workplace from the perspective of HR,
  3. The presence of faith-based organizations across our communities and in our workplace giving campaigns, and
  4. 5 steps your company can take now apply this ‘success formula’ to your CSR giving strategies.

This is an important, untold CSR story.

Nobody is talking about faith and workplace giving

I thought we would start the journey with an Internet search. But there is a problem. Google ‘faith and workplace giving’ and guess what you will find. Nothing. There are no direct ‘hits’ on those key words. No blogs, no articles, no white papers on the pros or the cons of mixing faith and workplace giving. Huh!? Really? Nobody is talking about faith and workplace giving?

So then where do we turn next in this discussion?

How about with the act of giving.

What inspires a person to give?

What inspires someone to give, to volunteer … to want to help someone in need?

Giving USA statistics show impact of faith and workplace givingThose are great questions. People give for all sorts of reasons. For example, some people are motivated by compassion, some by a sense of duty, others because of their faith. Some give out of a desire to “give back”. And still others because the right person asked them to give. The science behind giving points to the act of giving being driven more by emotion than intellect.

Looking at where people give also tells us something about the inspiration for giving. According to Giving USA, in 2016 Americans gave $390 billion to charity, with the largest beneficiary being religion (32%), followed by education (15%) and human services (12%). Faith, education, and alleviating social needs.

That is a helpful list. Religion – faith – is at the top. In the context of Giving USA’s report, this mean churches, synagogues and mosques. But what about all of those faith-based social service organizations?

Faith-based charities and social service

Many of our most important, most effective charities delivering needed social services in our communities are “faith-based”, but they are not churches or synagogues. They are charities inspired by people of faith to fulfill God’s calling by helping their neighbor in need. Categorically, we would refer to them as “Social Services” or as “Human Services”, which is number 3 on the Giving USA list. Who are these orgs? And what do they do?

For starters, these charities provide the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-just-get-it-done work that is often irreplaceable in our communities. Work such as feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, adoption and foster care, emergency relief, medical care, child care, education, and job training. Many or most of us recognize leading social service charities that are also faith-based, such as Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Family Services, and The Salvation Army. But did you know that Habitat for Humanity, YMCA and YWCA also follow faith-based missions? Habitat for Humanity’s mission reads:

Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.

Habitat for Humanity is a beneficiary of almost every workplace giving campaign I have reviewed in the past 15 years. HfH just announced a $50 million donation from Abbvie to rebuild homes in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Is faith such a touchy subject in the workplace that we should exclude faith-based organizations as beneficiaries of employee or corporate CSR program generosity? Do we ignore how important Habitat for Humanity or YMCAs or Catholic Charities or Jewish Family Services are to the health of our communities? Can’t we talk about these organizations and their faith-inspired missions in the workplace?

I certainly hope so. Let’s keep exploring.

Giving at the workplace

So faith inspires people to give. What about giving at the workplace? What inspires that same person to give, volunteer or help through work rather than just at home or through some other venue?

Last month, CSR Matters reported how important employee engagement strategies are to participation in CSR and workplace giving programs. And it’s true. Rather than focusing on just a company match of a gift or opening a giving program to more charities – standard CSR consulting advice – companies need to plan comprehensively to involve or engage their employees in both the operations and the culture of the company. Once employees are participating “in the company”, then we will see much higher participation rates in any one activity, like a giving or volunteering or sustainability program.

Hmmm. Giving data suggests people are inspired first by faith, yet corporate data suggests a holistic approach to employee engagement is the key to giving at work. Do we have a conflict here?

The answer is “no”! In fact, these two insights have more in common than you might think. And for that clarification, let’s turn to SHRM.

Faith in the workplace

HR executives understand this better than the rest of us. There is a balance to addressing religion, faith and the needs of an increasingly diverse workforce. In 2008, SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) published Religion and Corporate Culture, Accommodating Religious Diversity in the Workplace. In this survey report, SHRM looked at a variety of issues affecting the visibility of faith in the workplace, and how employers accommodate religious beliefs. While this report is now 10 years old, it remains quite relevant, and SHRM continues to elaborate on this topic regularly. In arguing that organizations benefit by “tapping into the religious diversity of their workforce”, the report made this concluding statement:

When the organization’s values align with those of its employees, there is positive impact on employee and customer loyalty, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

You may recall that last month, we blogged that a similar conclusion was reached by Wespire in its 2018 State of Employee Engagement Report. Having an inclusive, employee-first focus is critical to employee participation in all types of corporate programs designed to drive company success.

So, what are the values of employees that employers need to consider?

For starters, how about the “touchy subject” of this post – faith.

As Robert Grossman, contributing editor of SHRM’s HR Magazine, points out, the vast majority of Americans believe in God (80% to 90% depending on the poll), and most are affiliated with a religious group, believe in life after death, pray etc. Going forward, Grossman believes that HR professionals will spend more time dealing with religion and spirituality in the workplace, not less. And so hd encourages companies to take a more holistic view of the employee by acknowledging the importance of faith in the lives of their employees, and considering policies such as:

  1. Encourage diversity.
  2. Promote tolerance.
  3. Promote nondenominational values and ethics.
  4. Considering reasonable requests for religious accommodation from a diverse workforce (think holiday schedules or time to pray during the day).
  5. Respect employee beliefs, privacy and dignity.

In other words, don’t hide from the topic. Faith is part of our employees’ lives. Companies are better off if they acknowledge and show respect for faith. Helpful guidance for an increasingly diverse workforce.

Faith in workplace giving

As we turn to faith and workplace giving, it turns out that we have a surprisingly rich subject matter. If faith is the inspiration for so many faith-based charities receiving so much financial support at the workplace, then the story of religion or faith in workplace giving is a good one. That story has a lot of history behind it. Lots of data. And the current state of affairs deserves an update. We will tackle each subtopic, briefly.

United Way campaign posterFaith and the history of workplace giving. The roots of our social service charity sector reach back to the social problems created in early 19th century by the rapid expansion of the country and the earliest days of our industrial revolution. Later, with a social infrastructure of grassroots “voluntary associations” in place, church leaders in Denver, Colorado approached business leaders to raise money for the poor. The year was 1887, and they organized a community-based movement that would become the United Way. United Way would then go on to help usher in the modern era of workplace giving and Corporate Social Responsibility. For more history, please take a look at this CSR Matters post.

Data and workplace giving. Today, faith-based social service charities raise a lot of money and deliver a lot of service in our communities. And there is plenty of data to help tell that story. Unfortunately, we only have room for selected highlights here. (We will provide more depth in a follow up post!)

  • 47,930 faith-based service charities in the U.S., and another 95,600 religious organizations of all faiths, per Guidestar.
  • $4.5 billion given annually through the workplace.
  • $101 million raised in 2017 by the single largest workplace campaign, the Combined Federal Campaign, which includes hundreds of faith-based charities self-identifying as “religion-related” or “human services” agencies.
  • $4.7 million raised in public sector campaigns by Christian Service Charities, a fundraising federation serving Christian organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and International Justice Mission.

To give you a sense of impact data, let’s look at two faith-based organizations benefitting from your workplace giving programs:

  • USA Today reported that The Salvation Army serves more than 58 million meals, provides nearly 11 million nights of shelter, and assists more than 200,000 people through 142 rehabilitation facilities each year.
  • In 2016, World Vision reported that it responded to 130 emergencies across 63 nations, helped 4.6 million people gain access to clean water, and provided food to 9.5 million people in 39 countries.


The current state of workplace giving. Workplace giving as measured by total giving has stagnated over the past 10+ years. There is no way to sugar-coat that. Part of the challenge, however, is that this has been a period of change. Change from traditional United Way workplace campaigns in the fall to “open” giving campaigns supporting charities of employee choice throughout the year. From top-down executive-led marketing, to bottom-up outreach and engagement by fellow employees. From old and in-house giving technologies to third-party based SaaS platforms with partnering Donor Advised Funds to manage the gift processing. In addition to changes in the workplace giving industry, we have changing workplace demographics where a much younger workforce is looking for its employer to lead by example, as a socially responsible company, before being willing to engage in corporate giving programs.

In spite of so much change, we can find leading faith-based charities called to serve at home and abroad who remain committed to fundraising through Annual Workplace Giving Campaigns and other CSR giving programs. These organizations collectively raise tens of millions of dollars each year, some more, from donors at work. And as mentioned, the services they provide are often irreplaceable.

  • Examples of some of the better-known social service organizations present in most workplace campaigns include: Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, Lutheran Social Services, Jewish Family Services, The Salvation Army, Young Life, and Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).
  • International relief organizations present in most campaigns include: Catholic Relief Services,  Compassion International, Episcopal Relief and Development, Food for the Poor, Islamic Relief USA, Lutheran World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, and World Vision.

What have we discovered?

I realize we have covered a lot of ground in this post. But as I pointed out early on, no one is writing about faith and workplace giving, so this seemed an opportune time to cover a lot of ground. Our findings …

#1. Americans are a people of diverse faiths, and faith inspires giving.

#2. Donors inspired by faith often want to give to faith-based charities. They want to express their faith through a workplace giving program by giving to that favorite faith-based charity.

#3. Faith-based charities are more prevalent than we often realize, and the social services provided are indispensable.

#4. Companies benefit from inclusive, holistic employee engagement strategies. Our workforce is more diverse than ever, and faith is part of that diversity.

#5. When companies implement corporate values that include or reflect employee values – such as the recognition of faith and diversity – then everyone wins … the company, the employee and the community being served.

Ergo, #6. Faith and workplace giving go hand-in-hand.

And to take this conclusion one step further, if people like Robert Grossman are right, then we can expect faith and religion to become even more prevalent as a topic for workplace consideration as our society becomes increasingly diverse. We may even need more organizations like Christian Service Charities to help faith-based organizations participate in the workplace through giving, volunteering and other employee engagement programs.

We need expertise and organizations that will help the “faith-based employee” connect to the “faith-based charities” through work.

CSR Matters can help, but we aren’t enough!

5 steps you can take now

So perhaps you are a CSR professional, you have read this far and you are convinced that faith matters when it comes to CSR. Perhaps you are asking the next logical question, “What do we do now?” I’m glad you asked.

The answer: Take action! Here are 5 steps you and your company can take now.

  1. Talk with your HR team about your company’s larger employee engagement strategies. Is recognition given to your employees’ interests in faith, as well as the diversity of faiths that are likely represented? If not, would your company benefit from a change to a more inclusive, holistic strategy?
  2. Assemble a group of employees willing to take a leadership role in faith, employee engagement programs and workplace giving.
  3. Evaluate your current giving and engagement programs. Are faith-based organizations included? If not, consider how you might change this.
  4. Does your company have one or more Signature Programs? Consider how you might incorporate faith-based charities into one of them.
  5. Bring your Marketing or Corporate Communications team into the discussion. When making changes to any corporate-wide program, the change needs to be explained. And new initiatives need to be promoted … with enthusiasm.

Bringing it home

One important reminder, like we said in the opening of this post, religion is still a touchy subject when it comes to the workplace. Nothing we have said changes that perception. But let’s not allow the “touchiness” dissuade us from serving the needs of our employees, who in turn want to support the needs of our communities.

If faith is the single biggest inspirational influence for giving, then don’t we benefit from letting that inspiration loose within our workplace giving programs?

Furthermore, the workplace is more diverse than ever, and religion is part of that diversity. We need faith and workplace giving “working together”. In fact, faith and workplace giving represent a CSR success formula!

And finally, let’s not forget one other important statistic. Gifts made through workplace giving campaigns are 2 to 3 times larger than other types of donations (except bequests and capital pledges). So combining the inspiration of faith, the importance of an inclusive employee engagement strategy, and the efficiency of workplace giving – throwing in a match for good measure – should yield both higher participation rates and larger donations for the many charities serving our neighbors in need.

And that is quite a value proposition for all!